Pope Francis touched down in Cuba Saturday morning for a short visit to the island nation before traveling to the United States later this week.
Francis is scheduled to be in Cuba from Sept. 19 through Sept. 22, at which time he is set to take a plane to Washington, D.C, for his U.S. visit, which will also include stops in New York City and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During his trip, Francis is expected to conduct Mass in Havana’s Plaza de La Revolución and visit with Cuban resident Raul Castro.
Many have called Francis’s visit to Cuba a historic occasion, as the pope himself helped the United States and Cuba start to restore diplomatic relations in December, which led the U.S. Treasury and Commerce departments to loosen sanctions with Cuba.
The departments announced Friday that international travel to the island nation will be made easier and that the measures taken will help expand telecommunication and commerce in Cuba. The embargo imposed by the United States on Cuba went into effect in 1960.
While in Cuba, Francis plans to send the message that reconciliation is possible, citing the continued restoration of U.S. and Cuban relations. About 60 percent of the Cuban population is Catholic, but estimates show only 5 percent go to church on a regular basis.
Francis is not the first pope to visit Cuba. Pope John Paul II was the first pope to visit in 1998, and Pope Benedict XVI visited in 2012. Hundreds of thousands of people attended Mass at the Plaza de La Revolución during Benedict’s 2012 visit, at which time he advocated for religion to be allowed to be taught in Cuban schools. John Paul made his visit only after former Cuban leader Fidel Castro relaxed the country’s stance on religion, changing it from an officially atheist country to a secular one.
Scroll down for photos of Pope Francis' arrival to the Cuban capital city of Havana.